Grief, Guilt and Anger Grief, guilt and anger are normal emotions that arise in a loved one whose spouse, parent, sibling or close friend has been euthanized against their and the survivors’ will. Dealing with these strong emotions by yourself can be very difficult. However, not dealing effectively with these feelings - or denying them altogether - can lead to more suffering for you.

● Grief is the natural response to the loss of the person you loved and knew very well. Unlike a natural death, in the case of involuntary euthanasia, this grief includes the knowledge that time with the person has been stolen from you.

● Guilt is also common when a loved one dies. Most commonly, it includes the feeling that you could have done more - spent more time with the person when he or she was alive, and said things to the person that you wish you had, and so forth. But the guilt of involuntary euthanasia is worse than this: the survivors often mistakenly carry the weight of belief that they could have prevented the killing of their loved one. They think that they could and should have done more to stop the doctor and hospital killing the person.

● Anger is usually manifested, at first, in a desire for revenge against the doctor and hospital that euthanized your loved one. Survivors’ first reaction when anger strikes is usually to call a lawyer, to want charges filed against the “perpetrators”, and to sue. When the average person of limited means learns that there is a slim-to-nil chance of prosecution, the process will take years and huge sums of money, and that the courts seldom find in favor of the deceased in a lawsuit, the anger can increase.

Dealing with grief, guilt and anger takes it’s toll and takes time. As in the event of any death, the first days and weeks after may seem “unreal”. These feelings can also cause stresses that weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. For the involuntary euthanasia survivor, the feelings often do not abate with time, as they do in most cases of natural death.

There are positive, practical ways to deal with these legitimate feelings. These suggestions have proven to be effective for us and others who have suffered after their loved ones were killed.

Finding an experienced, licensed counselor to help you deal with these emotions is an important step. Equally as important is feeling confident in the counselor’s approach to working with you. We suggest getting recommendations from persons whose judgement you trust, including (but not limited to) a referral from a doctor opposed to euthanasia/assisted suicide; or a referral from a respected organization such as your place of worship if you are a person of faith; or from a secular humanitarian non-profit that does not support euthanasia, if you are not. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help when you need it: “No [person] is an island.”

It is very important to know that these feelings will remain with you, but that, over time and with assistance, they can be lessened and channeled into positive ways to honor and remember your loved one. Sensory experiences, memories, places and times can evoke these feelings. Weekends, holidays, and vacations can be especially difficult. The sense of the person’s absence can bring on grief. These feelings can arrive suddenly, when you least expect it. It may help to attend a community “grief group”, which provides peer support and persons to call who have “been through it”, when you feel overwhelmed.

We do not recommend using a friend or relative to provide this type of assistance. A professional counselor can say things to you that a friend or relative might not. A friend or relative may misread or misinterpret - or just plain miss - cues which could be crucial to helping you to deal with your feelings. Those persons may also be overwhelmed by your grief, and unable to cope with it, which could damage or destroy the relationship. A counselor is trained to assist you in dealing with your emotions yourself.

Write about it. Speaking from personal experience as well as professional guidance, this is a very useful tool. The act of writing down whatever thoughts come into your head - the grief, guilt and anger, of course - but also any thoughts and memories (sorrowful and joyful) of your loved one - will help you. It is best to write this by hand, using pen and paper, rather than on a computer - that way, you don’t have to hold back or worry that somebody else might accidentally find it. Because after you write it, you tear it up, burn it, shred it - get rid of it. Write what you’d like to do to whomever is responsible - what you think of them, why you hate them - anything you want! And when you’re done, read it over (or not) and destroy what you’ve written. Why this helps to dissipate the anger and despair, I don’t know - I only know it does work.

Another equally important writing tool - if and when you are able to do it - is to write a personal essay about the actual events that led to your loved one being euthanized. Briefly tell who your loved one was; then state the facts of the case in chronological order, documenting the physical changes that your loved one went through until he or she died; focus on the care (or lack of it) that was provided - all the minutiae of those last days can be both cathartic to you and helpful in preventing this from happening to others.

Both Mike and Kate have had people contact them after reading the stories written about Kate’s mom and Mike’s wife. These other survivors have spoken of how they felt the stories helped them, knowing that someone else understood their pain. It has helped Kate and Mike, by bringing some benefit to others. Mike’s and Kate’s stories have also helped change the minds of some people who were previously pro-assisted suicide/euthanasia, but who had no personal experience of it.

We have provided the following contact list of groups and/or individuals who may be able to help you work through this very difficult situation. There are, of course, other professionals that can help such as religious counselors trained in this area. Again it all depends on what works for you.

It is up to you to make the decision to take any or all of these steps.

This list is a work in progress: we will continue to add to it as we get positive recommendations.